THE JOY OF UNAPOLOGETIC SIMPLICITY
I imagine most people think of France as a modern country with all the amenities one has come to expect.
Is that true of everywhere in France, though? Weeeell – it just so happens that I know of a little, picturesque village in the Champagne region that would vehemently argue that it isn't.
It's right here that you'll find the tiny house that once belonged to my great-great-grandparents. And I mean tiny. It has two rooms. One of them is the kitchen (and also the entrance and living room).
I often picture my great-great-grandparents stopping by for a flying visit and how they'd feel right at home because, really, nothing (much) has changed since their days.
Maybe the color of the walls, but that's about it.
The basket belonged to my great-grandmother. It was her lunch box for school.
Want to talk about a true 'digital detox'? No TV, no radio, not even a telephone. Central heating? Why ever would you need that?
Cellphone coverage? Nope. Rien. Not a sausage. WiFi? Now you're being plain silly.
At least there's a hob (with two rings!) in the kitchen. And running water, even in the house. That's new and still something of a novelty for my mother. She used to collect water for cooking and washing from the village well.
That's until it was sealed up after a man drowned his wife in it, for reasons unknown. I'm pretty sure that was the day the village decided to connect to the public water supply after all.
We did get a bathroom eventually but, thanks to lack of space, it's in the stable formerly home to the donkeys. I honestly don't mind, except that it makes nightly bathroom visits a trip across the garden. With a flashlight, of course. Who needs outside lights?
At the front of the house, there's a large barn where my grandfather had his workshop. It's a total adventure playground for my boys. Walk across the sandy shed floor, and you'll find steps that lead to a particularly eerie cellar – once a fridge, it's now the perfect spot to share horror stories until you give each other the creeps. Something that never really gets old. And it's not the plum-sized spiders that make it frightening. Those are everywhere, including inside the house – naturally.
The four pictures are by my grandfather.
Care for a nice drink by the pool on arrival after a long road trip? No chance.
First, we need to plug any new holes in the roof and light the fireplace in the kitchen to get rid of the smell of damp that's settled in every nook and cranny over the past 365 days.
Next: fire up the water heater – the moment all 5 of us collectively hold our breath. Then: collect firewood from the neighbors. Once you've gotten rid of the seriously impressive cobwebs, tackled all the minor (and significant), new (and old) catastrophes, you can maaaaaybe think about sitting down with a glass of delicious local Chablis. That's if you're not too dog-tired. Oh, so tired.
It's probably right about now that you're wondering why, oh why, I choose to spend my summer vacation like this every year?
It's because I love it. Truly, madly, deeply, and from the bottom of my heart.
I love losing myself in this magical place where time has stood still. A place that's so far removed from the increasingly fast-paced, perfection-obsessed world I usually inhabit. A place from my childhood memories that retains a simplicity I truly cherish.
Rainbow plums in jars. Still life with salad spinner.
I love the sense that in this village, where generations of my family lived their lives – not just their vacations – I can reconnect with the simplest version of 'me'.
If only this village could talk, every corner would tell a story. The tale of a drifter called Paul who won his wife, Jeanette, in a game of poker. They ended up living together in a little shack for years to come. And no, she wasn't the woman who ended up at the bottom of the village well.
Or of little Sarah, always so smitten with all things nature that she volunteered to bring the farmer's cows in from grazing in the meadow every night. She got distracted once and managed to forget seven cows. Of course, they didn't stay where she left them and decided to take full advantage of their newfound freedom instead. The whole village had to rally together to help her round them up again.
I love this simple, rustic way of living and that it's as far removed from my own daily life as the nearest supermarket. And that, if I don't feel like taking a ten-kilometer (six-mile) trip to buy food, I can always wait for the shops to come to me: the baker makes his rounds through the village three times a week, and it's once a week for the butcher. I can easily work with that.
Granted, it could also be the fact that I know that I can return to my fully connected world that is part of the reason I enjoy taking time out in a place like this.
The best apples in the world. Pilfered, of course.
Being here, looking out at the horizon, got me thinking: what would it be like to live out here for a whole year? What would I do? Plant loads of flowers! Create a massive vegetable garden!
And see what it's like living here throughout the seasons. I only really know August. What about October? Or even February? I bet it's cold. Did I mention there's no central heating?
Maybe it's better that I only go in August after all.
And with that, I'm signing off for a while. See you in the Cottage Garden in September!